04 January 2018
Advances in technology mean the cable landing station is being outmoded. But what are the risks and what is driving this change? By Natalie Bannerman
An increasing number of submarine cable projects are
forgoing the humble cable landing station and connecting
directly into data centres. Low latency, easy access to
customers and cost-saving are among the benefits of doing so,
but bringing the subsea cable further inland also has its own
share of risks.
During the inaugural Subsea Connect Americas conference in
Florida, a panel – consisting of Aqua Comms CEO Nigel
Bayliff, Xsite Modular CEO Amy Marks, NJFX CEO Gil Santaliz,
Digital Realty VP of commercial management and business
development Don Schuett, and managing director and senior
analyst at RBC Capital Markets Jon Atkin – discussed
this very topic and what is driving this change.
According to Schuett, money is the biggest factor when it
comes to choosing whether or not to forgo a cable landing
station. "I think with the cost pressures of building new
[cable] systems, nobody wants to go out and build a brand new
cable landing station as they did 10-15 years ago.
It’s a very costly endeavour."
But Marks, whose Xsite Modular is the leading firm for
pre-fabricated technology embedded buildings and the
design-builder of modular cable landing stations, is quick to
"If you look at the cost of the cable station compared to
the cost of the cable itself, it is like a decimal point. I
can’t understand why people spend all this money
on these cable systems and then put it in
someone’s supermarket basement, instead of
actually providing a cable landing station to protect the data
of people on this planet. It is a pimple on the butt of the
cost of these systems."
NJFX’s Santaliz clarifies
Schuett’s previous statement, saying: "The
building is not the expensive part, it’s the
utilities to get there, it’s the backhaul to get
there, it’s the site selection and
it’s all the earth you have to move to make it
Capex and opex
Schuett adds: "And why would you need to go into a capex
model when there’s existing cable landing
stations, there’s existing data centres, that can
essentially serve the same purpose?"
He continues: "Operators and owners of these new systems are
not out to own assets, they’re out to build a
network for their own use. They don’t want those
assets on their books. They want to operate on an opex
As for Bayliff, it’s all about location and
diversity, he says. "I think all these things depend on where
you go," he adds.Using his own cable as an example he explains:
"In Ireland (Killala) where our cable (CeltixConnect) lands,
there is nothing there. There is a small town and an old
aluminium bauxite smelting plant, which is why we have
heavy-duty power from both directions on the grid. But it is
four and half hours from Dublin and the nearest data centre is
a good 200km away, as well as the fibre backhaul."
Overall, he says: "It is about closeness to the beach. You
don’t want to be taking your high voltage power,
which in the case of the Atlantic about 1,200 volts DC wrapped
around a fibre optic cable, too far inland because if somebody
comes along and starts digging it’s not the same
as your regular 110 volts."
As the conversation progressed, a term that came up
repeatedly was "hardened infrastructure". Speaking about cables
being extended inland to connect directly into data centres and
being more vulnerable to risks, Atkin explains how these
concerns form part of the decision making process at the
"Physical security and reliance on hardened sites is well
placed," he says. He believes the newest cohort of data centres
are resilient and up to the challenge. "During super storm
Sandy there was not a single data centre in New Jersey that had
a customer outage. All the outages that one hears about were
the older ones where you had diesel fuel pumps in the basement
that failed. All of the newer ones were fine."
Speaking to Capacity, Larry Schwartz, chairman and CEO of
Seaborn Networks, explains that he thinks the shift in the
market is a positive thing. "Where there is a pre-established,
well-populated data centre that can serve the role of landing
station plus POP, then it makes sense."
As for what’s driving it, he says there are two
factors. One, "we can run over 10,000 kilometres without
landing the cable in between, and can go from termination point
to termination point. That can make for a more reliable system
with fewer active elements."
The second factor is "to push costs down and make these more
affordable projects. So the combination of technology
improvements and lower cost serves the industry very
Conversely, Artur Mendes, COO of Angola Cables, thinks that
the customer is the one driving this change. "In our case our
cable in Angola is in a data centre. We are also building a
data centre in Fortaleza and use a data centre as a cable
landing station in Boca Raton and that’s because
essentially our customers are directly in the data centre," he
"If you are finalising at a data centre, you are at a
cross-connect distance from the other guy. So it’s
quite simple to just order a cross-connect and interconnect
with the other customer on a different route. When you are at a
landing station it is not as simple as that because most
customers don’t have access to the landing
station, so you need to pay for backhaul to connect.
It’s a lot more complicated to do."
But Paul Scott, president of C&W Networks, says: "I
think in developed countries, there’s a greater
density of data centres. But let’s face it, in
some of the emerging markets there’s not an
abundance of ready-to-go data centres sitting in an appropriate
location suitable to land a cable in."
He adds: "So I don’t think it’s
either-or. It’s what does the landscape look like
at a given country and what can I avail myself of if
there’s a hardened world-class data centre
that’s not too far from the beach."
"I think combinations of that are the reality and
practicality there’s not a bunch of data centres
to pick and choose from in emerging markets in the areas we
play in. We have a bunch of data centres of our own, which are
multi-use facilities. It just all depends."
Marks agrees. "None of us are representing the
under-developed markets that actually need cable landing
stations, because there isn’t a data centre there.
There’s plenty of the world that
isn’t in a place where they can choose which data
centre to go to, because they don’t have one, and
we have to provide cable landing stations for them in those
locations, just for them to be able to have connectivity. So as
the world changes, yes we might be moving towards this new
developed model, but there’s so much of the world
that’s not there yet."
It was Santaliz’s last argument that poses the
most innovative solution to reviving the cable landing station,
one that requires a little collaboration.
"I think the initial conversation about what’s
changing in the model is not the physical attributes of the
cable landing station. What’s changing is: why
can’t we have a cable landing station
that’s neutral? Why can’t one have
two subsea cables and let each operator have independence of
each other and operate in a neutral fashion?" he
"And why can’t the real estate owner stay out
of the way? Help them out in terms of power and cooling, but
just stay out of the way. Don’t get in their
business, don’t compete with them and
don’t get into the business of operating a cable
or connecting to other sites."
What was most telling was Santaliz’s final
point, perhaps revealing a bit of the strained relationship
between the cable operators and the owners of the landing
"Neutral to me means you don’t compete with the
guys you serve. So I don’t compete with my
customers. Therefore how can I help you? I don’t
have a hidden agenda, in terms of when I connect you to someone
or you to someone else, I’m thinking about how
this is going to hurt my other business."
cable landing station,